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Tips for Reducing Warehouse Costs

The list of costs required to run a warehouse is long. From labor to handling inventory to equipment and more, running a warehouse can get very expensive very quickly. However, there are practices that can reduce costs without diminishing productivity and efficiency. Check out these tips to reduce warehouse costs while maintaining and even improving productivity.

Labor management

Labor costs are one of the largest expenses when it comes to managing a warehouse. The following are just a few of the many ways to effectively reduce labor costs and improve employee productivity.

Employee training is essential. Employees should be trained not only in their specific line of work, but also informed about the organization’s goals and expectations of its employees. Cross training is another way to improve productivity and ensure the warehouse operations continue to run smoothly in someone’s absence.  

Investing in employee training pays off in the long run, so long as employees stay with an organization long enough. Hiring someone is an investment, and if an employee doesn’t stick around for too long, your company can lose money. By focusing on employee retention, your investments can pay off.

Reducing space and optimizing storage

Another large contribution to overall warehouse expenses is land costs. It’s possible to work in a smaller, less expensive space by optimizing storage. Here are a couple of helpful storage practices to keep in mind.

Racking allows you to optimize storage space and store inventory efficiently. Use racking to increase the number of pallets stored in your space and the square footage it allows. There are different ways of racking, but one common use is to build tall and narrow. The right racking system depends on your inventory, so make sure you are using the safest method possible.

Aisles are imperative when it comes to navigating through a warehouse and allowing forklifts and other equipment to get to inventory, and they can unfortunately be quite a space consumer. But by knowing the dimensions of various lifts that need to move through your aisles and get to certain items, you can reduce aisle space for optimal use. Different lifts are required for different products, so sort your inventory accordingly with the equipment required to handle and move it.

Inventory management

After optimizing your storage space, inventory management is the next step to reduce warehouse costs. Racking and sorting items in aisles according to the equipment that needs to reach them is a start, but there are other ways to manage your inventory in a cost and production efficient manner. Slotting refers to figuring out where each item should be located in your warehouse. An effective slotting strategy will ensure that products are in the right place at the right time, making handling of materials easier and faster.

Optimize equipment use

From forklifts to storage structures and more, equipment is another expense that can become quite costly in a warehouse. Here are a few things to keep in mind to get the best out of your equipment without paying an arm and a leg.

First, consider renting or leasing equipment rather than buying. There are different advantages for renting and buying, so evaluate your options and see which would option would work best for your organization.  

Another cost to keep in mind when it comes to equipment is repair expenses. Use preventive maintenance to avoid equipment failure. Be sure to regularly check the conditions of your equipment to avoid failure and any possible incidents or injuries that may result.

Proper Forklift Weight Distribution

The forklift is a powerful industrial tool that allows heavy items to be moved with ease and prevents various injuries from personal lifting. However, it is essential that operators are properly trained to operate a forklift and understand the factors that affect the machine’s stability.

An understanding of load capacity and weight distribution is especially important when operating a forklift. The load capacity represents the amount of weight a forklift can safely lift and maneuver. Weight distribution refers not only to the weight of the load, but also the weight of the forklift itself. An empty forklift has most of its weight in the rear, but when a load is placed on the lift, the weight distribution moves forward.

Load Center

The load center is the horizontal distance between the face of the forks and the center of gravity of the load. Forklifts are designed to carry a capacity load at a standard load center, typically 24 inches, to evenly distribute the weight of the load and keep the lift stable.

 

Proper Forklift Weight Distribution

Photo credit: www.osha.gov

This center is determined as if the load being carried is a perfectly shaped cube whose center of gravity is exactly in the center of that cube, so when lifting irregularly shaped loads, the capacity may be reduced.

The load center should be as close to the forklift’s wheels as possible. Increasing the distance between the load center and the wheels can result in tipover. Additionally, going over a forklift’s weight capacity can cause the weight distribution to move too far forward and result in tipover, as well as other hazards like loss of steering control or falling load.

Load Placement

When loading items, the heaviest weight should be loaded as close to the forklift’s masts as possible. Also be sure to load rectangular boxes widthwise rather than lengthwise to keep the load center from shifting forward and potentially causing tipover, as seen in the figure above.

Understanding these concepts is essential to safely operating a forklift, but load capacity and weight distribution are not the only factors that affect a lift’s stability. Visit OSHA’s e-tools for more details about forklift stability, balance, and how to estimate a safe load capacity.

Keeping a Forklift from Tipping

One of, if not the biggest threat behind improperly handling a forklift, is tip over. If a load is placed incorrectly or a driver takes too sharp of a turn, the forklift is likely to tip over and could result in injury. In fact, according to Fatalities and Catastrophes from OSHA, six workers were killed by a tipped forklift between January and September of 2014. While this information is concerning, tip over is avoidable. By remembering a few simple steps, you can decrease your chances of tip over and create a safer working environment.

Pay attention to the load center

Tip over often occurs when a load is not properly placed according to the lift’s center of gravity. Maintaining the load’s center of gravity is essential in avoiding forklift tip over. Every lift has a specified load center- its center of gravity- and maximum load capacity. If you abide by the limits of the load center and capacity, you are much less likely to tip a forklift.

However, depending on the size of the load and its distance from the tires, the load center changes. For instance, your lift may be able to handle a 3,000-lb load placed close to the tires. But if you move the load forward, your chances of tipping increase. The closer the load is to the front tires, the less likely you are to tip.

Place the load properly

Keeping the load closer to the tires will help keep your forklift from tipping forwards, but forklifts can also tip onto their sides. Because forklifts have more length than width, it is actually relatively easy for the lift to tip to the side when a load is placed improperly. When driving, loads typically shift, and if the load is wider than the forklift, tipping becomes a bigger threat. This brings us to the third and final step for avoiding forklift tipping.

Drive carefully

Forklifts often don’t have the best turning radius, so it’s important to go slowly around sharp turns when carrying a load. Even if the load is perfectly placed, a sharp turn can shift a load and throw it from its center of gravity, causing the lift to tip. 

By following these steps during the loading and operation of a forklift, your chances of tip over are much less likely. Unfortunately, accidents can happen despite the best laid plans and precautions, so always be sure to wear a seatbelt when operating a forklift.

Investing in Warehouse Safety

When it comes to running a productive and efficient warehouse, safety should be your first priority. Because the profit behind safety efforts is not easy to directly quantify, organizations sometimes put those efforts on the back burner. In such cases, warehouse managers and overseers tend to do the bare minimum, only going so far as to obey government rules and regulations. However, a safe warehouse puts companies in a position to be more profitable and generate cost savings. Additionally, an unfortunate workplace accident or injury can have extremely detrimental consequences on a warehouse and hinder its efficiency.

With the right steps in place, you can avoid accidents and their costly consequences, as well as see better profit over the long haul. The following are a few ways that you can invest in safety, which will ultimately serve as an investment in the success and efficiency of your warehouse.

Keep the Warehouse Organized

In order for workers to move safely through the space, your warehouse must be organized. Not only will a well-organized space make it easier for workers to move about safely, but also improve efficiency and productivity. Your warehouse and its aisles should be free of clutter, electrical cords, or other potentially hazardous materials that could result in a fall or other injuries.

Institute Safety Education and Training

When organizations don’t recognize the benefits to the costs and efficiency behind a safe warehouse, safety efforts and employee education are inadequate. As a result, workers are not trained in up to date safety procedures. It’s extremely important to fully train and educate employees about the safety requirements and procedures in your warehouse, and these policies should be revisited over time. And if new safety procedures or systems are introduced to the workplace, perhaps due to a new kind of equipment or organizational method, further education and training should take place.  

Create a Culture of Safety

As mentioned above, warehouse safety procedures are often insufficient, and many times safety is not prioritized to the degree it should be. Every individual worker, supervisor, and manager should understand the importance of safety in the workplace as well as understand his or her responsibility in promoting a safe environment. This culture of safety cannot be created in the course of a single training seminar or during initial employee training, but can only be created through sustained, continuous effort on every level, from managers to workers on the floor.

Creating a Warehouse Safety Checklist

In a warehouse, there are many safety hazards that can be dangerous if they are not properly addressed. Having a safety checklist is a great way to identify any potential hazards in the workplace. Once those hazards are identified, they can be dealt with to prevent any harmful incidents and maintain a safe work environment. There are many aspects of warehouse safety to take into consideration, from handling materials correctly to electrical and fire safety.

The following are some important aspects of warehouse safety to keep in mind when creating a checklist.

General Warehouse Safety

When it comes to general warehouse safety, there are easily preventable hazards that can result in injury if not dealt with properly. Some items on your checklist should include:

  • Exposed or open loading docks are blocked or roped off, as well as any other areas where employees could potentially fall four feet or more.
  • Floor and aisles are cleared of clutter such as spills, electrical cords, or other items that might cause an employee to slip or fall.
  • Employees performing physical work are given adequate time for rest breaks to avoid fatigue.
  • The warehouse is well ventilated.
  • Employees are trained to safely work in the environment (hot/humid or cold).

Materials Handling Checklist

As safety concerns become more specific, checklists become more extensive. This is true of the list for safely handling materials. Here are just a few of the important items to include on your checklist:

  • There is safe clearance for equipment and materials through aisles and doorways.
  • Motorized vehicles or mechanized equipment are checked daily or prior to use.
  • Vehicles are shut off and the brakes are set before loading/unloading.
  • Securing chains, ropes, slings, etc. are adequate for required job to be performed.
  • Covers and/or guardrails have been provided to protect workers from stair openings in floors, equipment pits, and other hazards.

Electrical Safety

There are many essential safety steps to take when it comes to electrical equipment, exposed wires, grounding, and more. Some items on this checklist include:

  • Employees are instructed to perform preliminary inspections and/or appropriate tests before beginning work on electrical equipment or lines.
  • Portable electric equipment and tools are either grounded or double insulated.
  • Exposed wiring or cords with frayed or damaged insulation are repaired or replaced immediately.
  • Flexible cords and cables are free of splices and/or taps.
  • Employees who regularly work around energized electrical equipment or lines are instructed in CPR methods.

While these guidelines are important in beginning to create your warehouse safety checklist, they are just the tip of the safety iceberg. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has some great guidelines and templates for general warehouse safety, as well as specific safety concerns, such as fire safety, floor and wall openings safety, and much more.

How to Properly Stack Pallets

In any warehouse you enter, you are likely to find wooden or plastic pallets that are used to store goods and materials. Pallets help warehouses make ample use of space and therefore become more efficient. While pallets are incredibly helpful to the warehouse, they can also be dangerous. If pallets are stacked or loaded improperly, they may become unbalanced and fall, leading to possible injury or even death. That is why it is extremely important for warehouse employees to know the proper methods for stacking pallets.

Before loading any materials onto a pallet, everything must be thoroughly inspected. The pallet itself needs to be in good condition, free of any damage, rotting, or other structural issues. Even if the pallet only seems to have a small issue, handling materials will take a toll on the pallet, worsening its condition and creating the potential for a dangerous incident to occur. Employees must also inspect the material to be loaded on the pallet, making sure it will fit and does not exceed the pallet’s weight limit. And of course, any equipment used to handle the pallet, such as a forklift, needs to be in safe working condition.

After inspecting the pallet, goods, and equipment, it is time to start loading. Balance is extremely important when it comes to the security of a stacked pallet, so make sure the weight of goods is evenly distributed. Materials should be stacked according to a uniform shape and size, which will make the stacks fairly even and level. Typically, the materials should be stacked in a square shape in order to make full use of the pallet. If the goods do not allow for a square shape, try to centralize the weight of the materials on the pallet to ensure stability.

It’s also important not to stack goods too high. The higher a stack goes, the more likely it is to topple and damage goods or injure people. The stack also needs to be short enough for the load to fit on the pallet rack. Overloading a pallet, whether by stacking too high or exceeding the pallet’s weight limit, is a recipe for disaster.

Once the materials have been loaded, they need to be secured. This is commonly done by securing the load with straps followed by stretch wrapping the entirety of the product in plastic.

Empty pallets often need to be stacked for storage between handling. Empty pallets need to be properly stored in order to keep clutter from accumulating in the warehouse and to avoid any accidents or injuries. The first important rule of stacking empty pallets is to always stack horizontally. While it may seem convenient to stick a few pallets vertically or on their side between piles of horizontal stacks, this can be extremely dangerous. When employees begin pulling those pallets, they risk the pallets stocked the opposite way catching and coming down too, which could cause serious injury.

Stacked pallets need to be loaded in an even, uniform manner. Pallets need to be stacked together according to size and weight, and never stacked crookedly. Not doing so can lead to danger when pulling pallets from storage. And similar to stacked goods, empty pallets stacked too high on one another risk toppling over.

Different stacking methods apply to different kinds of materials, but these general rules are an important basis for understanding safe pallet stacking methods. Make sure your warehouse employees are trained in the proper stacking methods, so that your warehouse can remain safe and incident-free.

How to Properly Load a Forklift

One of the most important aspects of forklift safety is properly loading and unloading the forklift’s load. An improperly loaded forklift can cause instability and potentially lead to an accident. Take the following steps when loading, operating, and unloading a forklift:

First, check the lift’s load limit, which can be found on its data plate, and make sure you are not exceeding the weight listed. An overloaded lift may result in tip over. Also try to distribute the weight of the load evenly, and spread the forks as widely as possible in order to do so.

When it comes to positioning the load, place it according to the recommended load center, and keep the load as close to the front wheels as possible. Be sure the load is secure and stable before moving, using the appropriate fixtures for the type of load, like a carpet spike or drum grappler. When lifting heavier loads, tilt the mast of the forklift back and keep the load close to the wheels to avoid the possibility of tipping. Also be sure to tip the mast back a bit before moving the lift.

Once you have the load in place and are ready to carry, keep the forks six to ten inches above the ground to avoid any potential hazards and keep the load tilted back. Do not raise or lower the load while in motion, travel at an appropriate speed, and be sure to stay aware of your surroundings, looking in the direction you’re moving.

When you are in position and ready to unload, move the load slowly into position. Check your surroundings to make sure you have adequate room for overhead clearance and have two to three inches of clearance at the sides and back of the load. Tilt the load forward and then lower it. Next, level the forks before pulling them back slowly.

Lastly, always be sure the lift and other required materials are up to date and aren’t damaged or deformed. Keeping up with proper maintenance schedules will ensure the forklifts are operating at their best.

While following these steps will help ensure safe and stable forklift operation, operators should be trained regarding the specific needs of their workplace and loading requirements.

Forklift Safety Training Tips for Your Warehouse

One of the most important aspects of operating an efficient warehouse is safety, especially when it comes to operating heavy machinery like forklifts. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has certain requirements that employers and warehouses must follow when it comes to forklift operation, and for good reason. Properly training and educating employees about forklift safety will help your warehouse to not only be safer, but also more productive. The fewer accidents that occur in your warehouse, the less it will cost you, whether saving on costs of repairing damages or insurance costs. Here are a few tips for developing a forklift safety training system in your warehouse.

Teach general safety and operation principles

There are many general tips for safely operating forklifts, regardless of make, model, or workplace conditions. These principles include proper loading and unloading methods, proper weight distribution, paying attention to load capacities, and more. Understanding the basics of forklift operation is the first step to a safe warehouse.

Tailor training to the specifics of your workplace and equipment

While understanding the general safety and forklift operation are necessary, employees need to be trained to the specific conditions of their workplace. Every warehouse operates differently and under different conditions. Equipment, practices, and organization vary from warehouse to warehouse, so what an operator may know from previous experience in warehouses or with forklifts will not necessarily apply in new conditions. Make sure your employees are trained to specifically operate the type of forklift used in your warehouse and are fully aware of the conditions of their workplace.

Educate more than just forklift operators

A common misconception about forklift safety training is that it only need apply to workers who will be operating the lifts. However, it is important for all warehouse workers to understand the dangers and safety precautions associated with forklifts. Even if an employee will not personally be operating a lift, every person working in the warehouse will be around forklifts, and is therefore at risk to the dangers such powerful machinery poses.

Evaluate safety methods and provide refresher training

Safety training is not a one and done system. Safety training should be adjusted as warehouses grow, adopt new equipment, or hire more workers. Therefore, warehouses need to frequently evaluate the safety methods in place and adapt accordingly. Especially if an accident has occurred or there has been any evidence of unsafe operation, warehouses need to provide refresher training for their employees.

Forklift safety is just one aspect of safety training that your warehouse needs to implement. Warehouses that provide comprehensive safety training for their employees are more productive, experience fewer accidents, and have higher job satisfaction. A safe warehouse is a successful warehouse, so kickstart your warehouse’s safety training with our tips today.  

Electric vs. Hydrogen Powered Forklifts

When it comes to operating an environmentally friendly warehouse, many debate between using electrically-powered versus hydrogen fuel cell-powered forklifts. Both are said to cut down on emissions and certain costs and serve as ideal options for indoor and closed spaces. But which option is better, electric or hydrogen? Here’s how the two compare.

As mentioned above, electric and hydrogen forklifts are the “green” forklift options because they don’t produce any harmful exhaust. Hydrogen fuel cells release water vapor into the air, which is either absorbed or stored in a reservoir. However, the sourcing of the hydrogen muddles the low emissions claim. Hydrogen is produced by reforming natural gas, a process that emits more CO2 into the atmosphere than simply burning the gas would. Because of this, electric forklifts are probably an environmentally better option.

Costs are also a divisive factor among manufacturers who prefer either electric or hydrogen. Electric forklifts have a lower cost per hour for operation and last longer compared to internal combustion systems. Electric also tends to be more affordable when it comes to routine maintenance.

While electric lasts longer than IC models and cost less to fuel, these models have higher upfront costs than IC models- sometimes 20-40% more. Another major issue regarding electric powered forklifts is the time and space the charging process requires. The battery life will likely last a standard 8-hour workday or 6 hours constant use, but a full recharge can take from 8 to 16 hours, with 8 hours to cool as well. Fast charge batteries are available, but can cost up to 20% more than standard issue.

In addition, if you need forklifts for multiple shift operations, you will need to purchase extra batteries and swap them out using a transporter in a battery changing station. The process can take 20 to 45 minutes and eat into both time and warehouse space.

Hydrogen-powered forklifts have electric beat when it comes to time, refueling in less than 3 minutes compared to upwards of 16 hours. But this option has its downsides as well. At first glance, hydrogen fuel cell forklifts do not seem like the most cost efficient method. The fuel costs are not cheap: hydrogen can cost twice as much as the price of an electric battery. The cost to repair equipment can also be staggeringly high.

However, many businesses have found that over time, the hydrogen method is more efficient and cost effective. They last longer, fuel in three minutes, and sustain power for a longer period of time. Companies like Walmart and Nestle Waters, with larger fleet sizes and high productivity, have found that using hydrogen-powered forklifts has lowered operational costs and increased worker productivity. While the initial investment is high, the return on investment can really pay off.

When it comes to choosing between electric and hydrogen-powered forklifts, it’s really up to your business to weigh out the costs and pros and cons of each method. Companies with the capital to initially invest in hydrogen fuel cells may find the method to their liking, as companies like Coca-Cola and Walgreens have, but electric-powered could be more economically sound for smaller companies.

For more information or questions regarding Electric or Hydrogen Powered Forklifts, reach out to a dealer near you.

Intro to Forklift Safety

Forklifts or Powered Industrial Trucks (PIT) were invented in 1906 to lift heavy materials. These machines are particularly helpful in a manufacturing setting where there are pallets or other heavy items to move. Using a forklift provides an easy way to move heavier items, while reducing the risk of hand, back, and neck injuries from actually personally lifting. While forklifts remain a useful tool, they can also be a dangerous tool if the forklift operator isn’t properly trained.

There are many different types of PITs on the market today. It’s important when purchasing a new PIT or bringing on a new Forklift operator to properly train all employees involved. Knowledge is power, and with such a powerful tool, accidents can happen. Common forklift accidents are being crushed by the vehicle, being wedged between the vehicle and a hard surface, being crushed between 2 vehicles, being ran over, being struck by falling material the forklift is carrying or lifting, and falling from the platform on the forks.  

According to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, “Approximately 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries involving forklifts occur in the United States every year. OSHA estimates 11% of all forklifts are involved in accidents every year.” Because driving a forklift is different from driving a car, it is required by OSHA that forklift operators go through the proper training to become certified and the operator’s performance must be reevaluated every three years. The employer must have a record of documentation that the training has occurred on file.

Proper safety training will include operating, maintenance, refueling/recharging batteries, operating limitations, use of proper attachments and weight distribution, and more. For more information on ensuring your employees are properly trained to operate a forklift vehicle, visit OSHA’s e-tools for more details and training materials.